Online advertisers are keen to tap into what we are thinking about. Go onto Facebook and the adverts will be for things that you are currently, apparently interested in. Similarly, surf the web and you will discover that the adverts you see are all for things you have recently searched for. The idea is that because you are thinking about these things you must be interested in them.
If that were really true, of course, then online advertisers would get a much higher click-through rate than is currently the case. Indeed, the vast majority of online advertising is ignored. The only reason that the advertisers actually gain anything from them is because a tiny percentage of billions of views still adds up to lots of money.
New research, however, suggests that taking a completely opposite approach to the conventional online advertising wisdom could well yield more money from smaller numbers of people.
The study found that contrary to expectations, people are most intersted in something they have not been thinking about when it is presented to them. The researchers from the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus presented people with pairs of words and asked them to think about just one of them. Later on they were given several words to look at and were asked to point out any they identified. The word identified by the participants was the one they had NOT been thinking about, but the other one in the pair. A similar effect was found when people were presented with two pictures. When asked to identify a picture it was the one they had not spent time thinking about that jumped out at them.
In other words we appear to notice things more easily when they are not on our minds. This is the complete reverse of what advertisers think is the case. They focus on what is on our minds and then give us the opportunity to click on their advert. But we don’t – and now we know why. It is because it is on our minds that we are not interested.
Advertisers need to advertise things we are currently NOT interested in. That way we are more likely to notice them. Far from trying to track what we are currently thinking about, the online advertisers ought to be doing the opposite. It appears that the online advertising industry is unable to get the click-throughs it really wants because it is doing the opposite of what they should be doing. True, what they are doing is logical – indeed the Nottingham researchers were convinced that they would not find what they did.
Dr Matthew Johnson from Nottingham University said: “The effect was shocking. When we began we expected to find the exact opposite – that thinking about something will make it easier to identify. We were initially disappointed – but when the effect was replicated over multiple experiments we realised we were onto something new and exciting.”